Training and working conditions blamed for horrific death of Caterpillar worker at foundry

Just nine days into my new job at Caterpillar’s foundry in Mapleton, IllinoisSteven Dierks, 39, a father of three, fell into an 11-foot-deep pot of molten iron and was consumed.

Now workers at the plant are blaming a lack of training, poor safety protection and horrific working conditions for his death and are threatening to strike the world’s largest construction equipment maker.

In June, Dierkes’ death was the subject of a report released by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). earlier this month, The report determined that “if the required safety guards or fall protection had been installed, the 39-year-old employee’s ninth day on the job may not have been his last”.

Osha said workers at Caterpillar’s foundry were “routinely exposed” to unsafe practices fall hazards and proposed a fine of $145,027. The decision isn’t enough for Dierks’ fiancee Jessica Sutter.

“My kids are without their father, I’m without my fiancé, my partner, my best friend because they didn’t want to take better safety precautions for that type of work,” said Sutter, who has two daughters. Was with Dirks, said.

She claimed that Caterpillar did not provide any help or support to her and her daughters. She is now trying to find extra work to save enough money to find a new place to live with her children because her landlord won’t make needed repairs on her house. She said they were already suffering financially because Dierks had been out of work for two months prior to starting Caterpillar.

Sutter criticizes Caterpillar for putting his fiancée in a dangerous position without adequate security protection.

“As for the caterpillars, I think they are murderers. This is a slaughterhouse. No one should lose their lives like this,” she said. “They have absolutely no pity for human decency. , they are a company without humanity.”

Former and current employees of the foundry also raised concerns about safety. A former employee at Mapleton Foundry, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from potential employers, quit at the end of 2021 because of unsafe working conditions.

“You breathe smoke and dust six, seven days a week,” the former employee said. “Whenever we raised the issue of security there, there was a lack of concern. Most of the time it was ignored or their fix created a new security issue or multiple issues.

A current employee of the foundry, who also requested anonymity for fear of retribution, detailed the working conditions and lack of safety protection that contributed to Dierks’ death. more than 800 workers Working in foundry.

The foundry is divided into two sides by a “wall”, a term used by workers to separate the environment and job types. Machining takes place on one side of the wall and iron is melted on the other side.

Dierkes was working as a meltdown deck operator and fell into a meltdown while trying to retrieve a sample.

“When he died, he gave us leave from work only for two days and then asked everyone to come back. The air literally still smelled like his burning body,” said a worker. “There were no guard rails, no harness procedures and nothing to make sure you didn’t fall into the big iron-filled hole. As he was collecting the iron sample with a spoon, he fell and Jumped up

“I’m so surprised it’s the first time this has happened. When I worked there, there were times when I thought, ‘Man, are they really going to do this to me?’ For example, if the iron level was low, they wanted you to try to get a sample or temp anyway, which would require you to bend over the hole a bit to be able to reach the iron. Melters are always 2,400- are around 2,600F, so if you fall into one your chances of survival are nil.

The worker also claimed that the process of taking out the iron was dangerous, that the cranes used to haul the iron also posed a safety risk, and that there were significant risks of burns from backsplashes while working in extreme heat.

“The thawed deck reaches above 120F in the summer. You are expected to wear full-sleeved clothes to protect you from the iron, but the fire-resistant clothes you wear don’t protect against anything – the iron burns through it,” the worker said.

“The heat makes it difficult to breathe, and you are always drenched in sweat. They have heat advisory days in the summer where security doles out water bottles. But it doesn’t really matter how much water you drink down there, you’re losing so much sweat that you almost always feel dry when you leave work and your ears and nose are clogged with black soot every single day, and It obviously gets into your body. Lungs.”

The activist also claimed that Caterpillar had done nothing for Dierks’ family and that co-workers had tried to raise money for the family themselves after the incident. He noted that the money that Osha has proposed to fine Caterpillar for the security violations will not go to Dierks’ family.

Another worker, 50-year-old contractor Scott Adams, died in 2021 in a fall at the foundry. osha accused the contractors He was working on Caterpillar’s premises after failing to protect himself from the fall.

In 2020, the latest year of data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,764 employees Fatal injuries suffered in the workplace in America. But the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the US, says that number critically low Real problem due to lack of funding for regulatory oversight.

The foundry’s workers are represented by the United Auto Workers, and the employee claimed that workers are now being asked to train their replacements in anticipation of a possible strike in March 2023, when the current union contract expires. .

Caterpillar declined to comment on the deaths of Dierks or Adams or on workers’ claims that they are being asked to train potential replacements.

A Caterpillar spokesperson said in an email: “We are deeply saddened by the death of an employee involved in a serious incident at our Mapleton, Illinois, facility on June 2. Our thoughts are with this employee’s family, friends and family.” Colleagues. The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors to all Caterpillar locations around the world is our top priority. With respect to the serious safety incident that occurred, we will continue to engage with OSHA to review it and find an appropriate resolution.”

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